The Red Wings kicked off their preseason schedule tonight with a 5-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Steel City's brand-new CONSOL Energy Center. Detroit played tonight with the half of their squad that didn't include top-line players Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Holmstrom, Nicklas Lidstrom, or Niklas Kronwall, as well as goaltender Jimmy Howard. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh used Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Mike Comrie,and Brooks Orpik to help them secure a win. The game was not televised, but thanks to Ken Kal and Paul Woods on 97.1, fans were able to at least listen to the radio play-by-play.
Hold onto your balls though, because the good news doesn't stop with the loss or the lack of television coverage. Johan Franzen left the game in the first period after what Ken Kal described as a knee-on-knee collision with Brooks Orpik that earned the wild-eyed defenseman a five-minute major and a game misconduct. Todd Bertuzzi got himself an instigator penalty after dropping the gloves to let Orpik know that he didn't think highly of the Laraque-esque play. Franzen stayed down for a while, but eventually left the ice under his own power and didn't play the remainder of the game. The Wings currently claim that Franzen suffered a charley horse. Derek Meech also missed the 2nd and 3rd periods after suffering a mild concussion thanks to getting caught with his head down again. Join me after the jump for the bulleted thoughts.
- First and foremost, the Orpik hit: Preseason or not, there's absolutely no reason for the that play. I've yet to see video, but I've heard it described as one of those last-second bad decisions. That's all well and good to write it off as an "oops", but it's a serious problem. For a player like Orpik who plays with an edge, the mindset needs to change. I hope he loses regular season time for this. For anybody who wishes to tell me to reserve judgment until after I've seen video, I'd like to answer that I trust Ken Kal's description and I trust that it was a dirty hit based on the five-minute kneeing major and the game misconduct Orpik received. I do want to see the video, but I'm going to have to see evidence that the play was not dirty to change the opinion I have based on the current information. Orpik does not get the benefit of the doubt here. If you have a link or were at the game, I'd appreciate sharing it in the comments, please.
- At one point, Woods described Ritola as "the best Red Wings forward on the ice" and, based on how often I heard his name on the broadcast, I believe that. Ritola finished the game with an even rating and an assist on the Red Wings lone goal of the night. This certainly makes the battle for the bottom of the lineup more interesting, as Ritola has another game where he's made it difficult to suggest putting him on waivers as the odd-man out. Right now, it seems he's fighting Miller for a spot and that he's winning. Take the radio piece with a grain of salt though, as Miller played 3 minutes tonight in a Red Wings PK role that killed 5 of 5 penalties while Ritola spent 3 minutes on an 0-for-6 Wings PP unit. The question by the end of camp is whether Babcock wants to try to develop an offensive forward alongside Helm and Abdelkader at the cost of penalty-killing depth. George Malik has described the decision as one between a guy with big upside, but a long way to go against a guy who's currently better, but is likely near his peak as an NHL player.
- Jonathan Ericsson seemed to rebound from his awful performance in the 2nd half (yes, half) of the Red & White Scrimmage. He led the Wings with 25:42 of ice time and finished with an even rating. He did have two giveaways on the scoresheet, but also took four shots on goal and blocked two of his own. Not being able to see him play, I'm forced to assume that the lack of negative radio coverage in so much ice time is a big step forward for him.
- Ruslan Salei scored the Wings' lone goal shortly after a power play expired. Welcome to Detroit, Rusty. You'd better be careful or we're going to get some serious expectations going on you.
- The Wings did not control the puck well for most of the game (late first and early second periods notwithstanding). Seems there were quite a few rushes that ended at the Penguins blue line and let to numbers coming back the other way. That has to change.
- McCollum faced ten shots in the third and stopped them all. There were times when the ice was seriously tilted in the Penguins favor, but he held firm. Ozzie seemed to have trouble with rebound control, but the defense is supposed to help out with those.
- Speaking of defense, Brian Lashoff was a minus-4 in his 19 minutes of ice time. I think it's safe to say he won't make the big club.
Hopefully, that was just a combination of jitters and an extremely motivated Penguins team trying to christen their new playpen. Even more hopefully, Franzen is ok. Next up, the Wings take on Chicago in their preseason home opener on Friday Night. This game will be televised on NHL Network.
[Update 10:35 AM 9/23: Blogger Ben from Below the Crossbar was at the game last night and saw it first-hand. Ben shared his thoughts over at Abel to Yzerman this morning and was kind enough to grant me permission to steal it for update here.
Orpik’s "hit": I saw the whole thing unfold as Franzen was coming up in the rush. Orpik was beat by Franzen’s speed and his own flat-footedness. I don’t think the hit was "intentional" in the sense of injury, but it was intentional in the sense of stopping Franzen from getting free clearance to the net. It was a blatant sticking out of the knee. Minimum he should get 3-5 regular season games for it...but we all know he won’t. There is no excuse for a play like that in the pre-season, especially when I don’t think Brooks Orpik is exactly fighting for his spot on the roster. It was a dirty and stupid play that is well worth a suspension. Even some Pens fans I know admitted it was a "bad call" at best by Orpik.
Thanks for the in-person update, Ben, and for confirming what I had suspected. It didn't make sense that Orpik would intentionally go cheap like that, especially when sticking out your knee can be just as dangerous to the hitter as the hittee, but he's got to make a better decision there. Sometimes you get beat. At any rate, there's much more to Ben's comment at Abel to Yzerman, including a good breakdown of how the defense played. I recommend heading over to read that.]
[Update 2 12:20 PM 9/23: I asked Ben about the Malkin boarding penalty, knowing that boarding is a bit harder to nail down as dirty if you don't see it, wondering specifically if it was a "Helm turned at the last minute" type of play. Remember, Malkin is racking himself up a bit of a track record when it comes to crossing the line, earning himself 100 penalty minutes in only 67 games (only six fewer on the season than Penguins' resident goon Matt Cooke, who appeared in 79 games). Malkin is the player who ended Willie Mitchell's season last year with a boarding play that left the then-Vancouver defender with a concussion. Here's what Ben had to say about the hit:
In all honesty, it was ugly. Helm stopped a puck in the neutral zone coming up the boards and Malkin cross-checked him from behind into the boards. Helm had no way of defending himself and it's not like he turned at the last second. Malkin could have went for the puck, but instead he drove Helm head-first into the boards. It was bad enough for me to yell right away "What the Hell!?" and the refs didn't even hesitate to call the penalty. However, Malkin didn't come in with much speed, and I don't think "intent" was there to injure Helm, but again another stupid play by a Pittsburgh Penguin. I think Malkin probably would have done it to any player. He doesn't fully understand yet how to toe that line between physical and irresponsibly violent. Nonetheless, the rivalry is ratcheted up a few notches to say the least...
To say the least, indeed. I'm starting to hope dearly for a rubber-match in the Finals this year. Thanks again goes to Ben from Below the Crossbar, who you can also follow on Twitter as @BTCBen]